By JOHN O'CONNELL
Gov. Butch Otter has appointed a Caribou County dryland grain farmer and a Washington County rancher to a reconstituted board assigned to regulate oil and gas exploration and drilling in the state.
The new Idaho Oil and Gas Conservation Commission includes two positions for landowners with and without mineral rights and three experts covering oil and gas, water and geology.
Soda Springs grower Sid Cellan, secretary and treasurer of Idaho Grain Producers Association, will serve a one-year term representing property owners who don't own the mineral rights to their land.
Margaret Chipman, who owns a Weiser cattle feeding and ranching business, has facilitated town hall meetings in her community during the past two years with oil and gas industry officials and public officials. She'll serve a three-year term, representing landowners who own their mineral rights.
Other new appointees include: James Classen, of Boise, a geologist who will serve a four-year term; Ken Smith, of Boise, who will represent oil and gas interests during a four-year term; and Hayden Lake water expert Chris Beck, who will serve a two-year term.
The board previously included the same politicians who comprise the Idaho State Board of Land Commissioners -- the attorney general, the state controller, the secretary of state, the governor, the superintendent of public instruction and the director of the Idaho Department of Lands.
The land board will still be charged with issuing oil and gas leases on state land. Any changes to state oil and gas laws, however, must be approved by the new commission prior to consideration by the Legislature.
IDL spokeswoman Emily Callihan said the board changes were based on the construction of similar bodies in other states with "more mature oil and gas industries." Callihan expects the commission will meet at least quarterly.
The urgency is due to a gas drilling project scheduled to take place later this month in Payette and Washington counties.
"Up until this point there hasn't been any production of natural gas in Idaho," Callihan said.
Partners in the drilling project include an Idaho company, Snake River Oil and Gas, and Texas-based Alta Mesa. Snake River spokesman John Foster believes development of an Idaho oil and gas industry will benefit farmers through lease payments and an abundant local source of natural gas.
"The drilling is occurring in ag land. The companies involved in the project have taken the time to understand the nuances of some of the issues that are important to agriculture, in particular water," Foster said.
Cellan laments the fact that his father sold the mineral rights to much of the farm in the 1970s, based on far too little information. Natural gas and geothermal energy have since been found on Cellan's farm, and a Wyoming company is mining his lava rock, though he's entitled to no royalties. His interest on the board is to protect other landowners from making similar mistakes.
"I think we need to have a voice on this board," Cellan said. "Quite a bit of the land that's utilized by gas exploration in Idaho is private individuals. Most of it is farmland."
Foster noted state laws are much improved. For example, leases, rather than land sales, now facilitate drilling, so energy companies and landowners share in the profits.